Only ten days of the new year have passed and already 2016 has shocked the music world. As I, and many others, had predicted Guns N’ Roses have announced a reunion that so far comprises of two festival dates, but will most likely extend into at least a US tour. Secondly, and very sadly, the rock icon David Bowie has passed away only two days after his twenty-fifth studio album, Blackstar, was released on his sixty-ninth birthday. It is therefore only fitting to give a brief review of Bowie’s final studio album in today’s RockAtlantic blog.
Blackstar sees Bowie returning to what he was best known for; experimentation. The title track is a long wandering piece that drifts between vibrato vocals set to a spacey backdrop, jazz fusion and electronically-processed sections. It is hugely alienating to anyone wanting something along the lines of Bowie’s more digestible music, but that is what makes the song, and indeed this album, work; it is Bowie with no restraints, guiding his own artistic path.
The album continues in this vein. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore immediately reveals a stumbling dance between saxophone and piano; the former of which is really allowed free rein over this five minute grooving rock number. Bowie continues with and elevates the groove for Sue (Or In A Season of Crime), which is centred entirely around a bouncing guitar and drum pulse, embellished with odd keyboards, swelling atmospherics and saxophone splutters.
Bowie’s vocals are not always the strongest across the album, but it doesn’t detract from the excellent music and creativity on show. Girl Loves Me opens with a bizarre vocal performance, but in the context of this dreamy march it somehow works. However the following track, Dollar Days, allows Bowie’s vocals to take centre stage. The gentle guitar strum and piano tingle provide the closest thing to a commercial effort on the album – if indeed a sax solo and a myriad of Bowie extroversions can fit into such a bracket.
I Can’t Give Anything Away is also an easier listening experience that allows Bowie to give a softer, more reflective vocal contribution on top of synth textures and a driving rhythm section. Like every other song on Blackstar, Donny McCaslin’s saxophone makes a welcomed appearance, but arguably its most enjoyable appearance is within the loose structure of the slowly building Lazarus. The opening guitar and bass plod is eventually joined by various instrumentation and if the unannounced distorted guitar chords aren’t haunting enough, then Bowie’s first lyric, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”, will certainly send an eerie chill down your spine.
It’s hard not to blur and confuse the line between post-death adoration and the sound of a genuinely great album, but even before Bowie’s untimely death, Blackstar had all the ingredients of a superbly creative and genius album. I honestly believe this is a quality piece of music that provides the perfect eulogy for a man who has constantly challenged and changed the face of both mainstream and left-field music.
R.I.P David Bowie.
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